Health and Wellness through Integrative Wellness

Two weeks ago, we began our focus on health and wellness with a listing of the various theories that we use as informational resources for our clients in our health and wellness offerings.  In my practice, I focus on a client’s inner thought process that often destroys their approach to becoming healthy, and how they can create a state of work-life balance.  My practice is not life coaching, nor is it wellness coaching in its purest sense, but more of transition coaching in which I work with a client on a vision of what path they want to take in their life, and then how to take the steps towards that route. Many Americans (60% of the population, in fact) want to follow a slimmer path – as in, they want to lose some extra weight.

The list of diet approaches being recommended by the doctors in our first entry are all variations on a theme.  Both Melinda and I have worked through programs at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and have studied these theories as well as a number of others in our training.  We start the discussion with the views of Dr. Andrew Weil, who is a founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. The crux of Dr. Weil’s opinion, which is being adopted by over 25% of the medical schools in the US includes:

  • Restore the focus of medicine on health and healing
  • Insist that human beings are more than just physical bodies – they are also spiritual, emotional, beings
  • Insist on the importance of lifestyle practices – how to eat, how to handle stress, how to manage relationships, how to sleep, how to balance career and so on
  • Insist on the importances of the practitioner and patient relationship – allows the patient to tell their story

According to Dr. Weil, the key element of a health-promoting lifestyle – stop eating refined, processed and manufactured food.  His premise includes that the diseases of aging, which include cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) and cancers are not our natural fat but the outcome of the standard American diet.  His working premise is that all of these diseases are caused by a combination of factors, but all are based on chronic low levels of inflammation.  Inflammation is, of course, the corner stone of the bodies healing response – we’ve all seen redness and swelling as we bruise our bodies.  Dr. Weil asserts that we need to control this so that it ends when it has fulfilled its purpose.

So are these diseases a requirement for aging?  No – you prevent this by eating healthy foods and meeting your core needs for relationships, spiritually, physical exercise, and your career.  His teaching from a dietary perspective is to avoid processed foods, especially foods that are high in carbohydrates even if they, and perhaps especially if they claim to be whole grain or healthy.  The standard processes that food manufacturers use pulverize the grains such that they have no real whole grains left in them. The resultant product has a higher glycemic index than white bread and is seen by the body as sugar. Nutrition labels can be deceiving; fat is not necessarily the culprit of obesity; excess carbs are the silent criminal.

His anti-inflammatory diet is written in his books and on his website. It is based on a colorful diet of various fruits and vegetables, less animal products (especially meat), more fish, olive oil, green tea, red wine, tumeric, ginger, and dark chocolate made with at least 70% cocoa. Most people prefer to eat delicious, healthy food rather than simply throw back pills, and fortunately, Dr. Weil agrees that nutritional supplements should strictly be supplements and not substitutes for nutrient-dense food. However, fish oil, a multi-vitamin supplement, Vitamin D (especially north of Atlanta six months out of the year) should be taken with a fat containing meal.  On a side note, adequate levels of Vitamin D are critical in fighting off colds and flu in the winter especially. If you are bothered by these, there is a book discussing this available from Amazon and other retailers.

Keeping physically active in the second half of life is key, according to Dr. Weil and his study of centenarians who maintained physical activity, social support, and intellectual liveliness. You can see why I have chosen to start with this author’s works because it is our premise that being onCORE to your values, eating the right foods, and achieving whole life balance is essential to living a long life.  From a physical activity perspective, things like walking, gardening, hunting, fishing, nature photography, biking outdoors and other daily activity is important as we age.  It is not time to play basketball and run marathons – but a time to do things that are of a lower impact, such as swimming and walking.  He also asserts that it is important for older people to be loved and embraced by younger people and to have a respected place in society.

Stress kills – it increases cortisol levels in the brain that kills cells in the hippocampus, which processes memories in the brain – so Dr. Weil promotes breathing techniques that are effective at reducing stress – these are found on Youtube if you are interested in them.

What I have gotten from this body of work and in reading Dr. Weil’s work is that I need to be balanced in my life; I need to be active, and I need to be spiritually grounded to manage stress.  Dr. Weil believes that breathing exercises are great for reducing stress – groovy, right? No, I think that idea is about as stupid as the term “groovy.” Moving forward to the eighties, I think that meditation is actually “totally tubular.”  Onward to the twenty-first century, I’d say it’s “awesome.”  The key is managing stress, and for me, that means meditation.  Earlier this week, after three days of too much Quickbooks and not enough stretching – I needed to meditate for about thirty minutes to relieve the pain and tension in my body that I only became aware of at eleven in the evening when I woke up with numb hands and sore legs because my lower back was out.  I woke up my wife and asked her to get me a heating pad for my neck and some herbal tea and then consciously relaxed my pain points through mediation and relaxation until I was able to get to sleep.  The alternative would have been a trip to the ER and hours of tests or prodding followed by, “It’s only stress, bozo, go home.”  As I was writing this entry and listening to Dr W; they only go to the doctor as a last resort. On the other hand, in America, we go immediately and expect some pill to fix us.

Combining what I have taken away from Dr. Weil with what I am getting from Bruce Lipton, the quantum biologist, I have come away with my own theory for my approach to my health in the second half of life. Last week, I spoke of the environment in our bodies. according to Lipton, as producing things like excess fat – for me, excess stress means excess thinking about the past or worrying about the future – which means fat. And it also leads to the potential for disruption of the health of my brain, according to Weil.

This certainly explains the last couple of months for me, as personal stress has lead to a small weight gain, and I feel like I am often more foggy than I have been. What has been missing is intense exercise and regular meditation. I have not been focused on living an HD version of life. I have not been fully engaged; I’ve only gone through the motions at times. I have allowed a personal source of stress to decrease my passion, because in the past, others have been hurt by my actions.

But others have been helped by the same actions, and how others receive my energy is not mine to control or predict. I can only be authentic and speak with my authentic voice and the truth. I cannot allow fear of how others might perceive me to stop me from being me.

So, is food the reason for obesity? Technically. However, Weil and Lipton agree that the environment in our bodies is a big part of the reason that we store fat, even when we do not have to. Toxic thinking leads to stress which leads to fat. So becoming well means eating the right foods, mostly plant based and not processed, and balancing our primary needs for exercise, spirituality, relationships and career.

One piece of advice directly from Dr. Weil: surround yourself with the people that you want to be like.

Look at the Birds….

Last week, I talked about the different diet approaches that provide the basis for our own food choices in the second half of life, which is a good starting point for anyone looking to make their own choices.  My original intention was to simply summarize the points of each of the authors, but that quick “Cliff Notes” process is not our style.  We believe you need to live with each theory and see how it affects you because our purpose is only to share what we have learned from an author and how it has impacted us, not tell you which one is right for you.

This belief comes out of my religious background, which is firmly rooted in my mother’s Irish Catholic beliefs.  In my formative years, I was raised in St. Bridget’s Parish on Long Island.  My own initial training in Bible study came from the teachings of two Pittsburgh Catholic priests who taught me two considerations when reading the Bible.  The first is that you have to understand the audience and the times of the writer.  Father Eugene Bonachi of the Mon Valley, which was decimated in the eighties as the steel mills closed, also taught me that the backstory of the writer cannot be ignored.

For this reason, so much of my back-story is on this blog series.  Who I am and my beliefs are always made visible in my writings or teachings.  Father Bonachi was an activist priest who believed that Reganomics was a disaster; something on which I believe he was remarkably accurate.  His assumption was that it would lead to a larger gap between the poor and the now former middle class, and the wealthy as the industrial base of America was destroyed and moved offshore.

But he also taught the importance of context.  Father Bonachi used the example of the headline of “Buc’s Bomb Birds.” Currently, it could refer to the Pittsburgh Pirates beating the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball.  It could be anything from the victory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game a few years ago to a Disney-created story of Jack Sparrow bombing an island with flocks of birds in a future “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

So, the audience to whom the diet-creator is writing as well as the context of his experience and motivation needs to be understood.  Regarding diet, we are coaches, and we want our clients to be healthy and happy.  We are not selling diet books or being paid by food or drug companies for a testimonial.  We form our own beliefs, and we expect our clients to do the same.

The second thing I learned about reading and studying the Bible in the early Catholic church is that the interpretation of the Bible was not in the purview of the uneducated laity who had no knowledge of the times in which the stories were written.   For them it was to reflect upon how the story applied to their life and to share that with others.  This is something that I have continued to hold to, and the same thinking  should be applied to a lot of the teachings of both conventional and alternative healing theories, both of which seem to be religions to the people promoting them.  I believe this to be particularly true with diets that purport to understand how people lived and ate in the “cave man” era, or “diets” designed to sell supplements or manufactured foods.

The only thing that is certain right now is that regardless of what we do, we are going to die eventually.  If we fixate on the belief that we are going to be in more pain the older we get, and we are going to be less able to do the things that we used to do, we are going to amplify those effects on our bodies and psyches.  We need a fresh start in order to have healthy living in our retirement years.  Each of us has to weigh quality of live versus quantity of life and make our own decisions.  If in reading these diet books, we feel that eating kale for the next fifty years in order to have health is not worth the fact that we have to eat kale, then we won’t do it.  What we eat is important, but how we find our spiritual center is equally as important.  We can find similar answers in quantum biology and in sacred scripture.

So what was to be a six week blitz of these diets, is turning into a Thursday Wellness posting, and we will weave in these theories and others into the entries.  What we eat is only part of the story.  How we think and what we feel are a big part of what the fifty trillion cell structure that appears to the world as our body does with the food.  In his new book – “The Honeymoon Effect” about how our thinking controls our health, Bruce Lipton channels James Carvile from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign with “it is the environment stupid.”  This is how I interpret this portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:26-27) “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Here is a link to a site that Melinda found today, and my interpretation of it is that we, like this squirrel or the birds in the Sermon on the Mount, know what we should eat if we don’t let our egos and toxic thinking get in the way.  If squirrels are in-tune with what is good and what is bad, then why are we not able to do so?  Because we worry, which means we tune into the fear that we will look stupid.  So if everybody else is eating beef that was force-fed GMO corn and injected with drugs, then we should.  Really?  The last time I ate factory beef I found it to have no taste unless it was combined with sauces and salt and perhaps a bacon wrap.  We must not be dominated by our fears, but by our “gut feelings” on what is right for ourselves.

To do this we need to be in harmony with the magnificent creation that is the fifty trillions cells known as an individual human being, and to eat food and establish practices that balance our mind, body and soul.

Wellness Doctors

Wellness is one the largest pieces of our practice, particularly with people in the second half of life. Because of this, we think it is important to start a series on profiling medical doctors that have developed approaches to treating the diseases of our age. Most of these are rooted in increased inflammation in the body and are significantly, if not completely, caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD).

This diet contains chemicals and additives from processed foods, toxins from factory farming, and an oversupply of protein and sugar. Sounds appealing, right? Hopefully your answer to that is a resounding “no,” because these all result in the creation and storage of fat on the body. This analysis is not ours, it comes from the following schools of thought. All of these teachings are from medical doctors.

Dr. Mark Hyman has coined the term functional medicine and has founded and runs the Ultra Wellness Center in Lenox Mass .

Dr. Andrew Weil has founded the Integrative Medicine Center at the university of Arizona.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who has become well known because of his work with former President Bill Clinton, and the movie “Forks Over Knives” has promoted the reversal of heart disease with plant-based diets.

Dr. Daniel Amen has focused on reversing brain damage through diet, and has created the Amen Clinic.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman is an author and maintains a private practice in Flemington NJ.

Dr. Dean Ornish has developed a program for reversing heart disease that is now accepted by many insurance programs.

All of these programs have a number of common themes:

  • Limit sugar intake including alcohol and foods that are seen as sugar by the body
  • Eat adequate amounts of protein
  • Limit or eliminate processed foods
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise
  • Get proper rest

As transition and wellness coaches, it is our role to help our client decide which variations work for them. We also look at the bigger picture of why we do not follow the direction of these doctors, which can be summed up in the words of Michael Pollan – Eat food, mostly plants, not a lot. What stops us from doing this?

The proof of that is left to each person to figure out. For our clients, we help them figure out what toxic thinking they have that causes them to sabatoge their efforts to reach a normal body weight.

On Thursday of each week, our blog entry will speak to wellness themes, starting with a discussion of each of the medical doctors approaches to wellness and why you might consider their approach for you.

If you are tired of your toxic thinking and walking in the world with excess weight not only on your gut, but also with the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can get started here with a complimentary health history to see what might work best for you.

Whatever you do, do something. The major cause of our increasing federal deficit is the cost of health care. You do not have to get sick prematurely and suffer the effects of reverseable or preventable diseases. As the computer learned in War Games, the only way to win is not to play the game. Stop.

The Turn

Six months ago today, I posted my last blog entry prior to this one and this one is different from most of my previous posts. This one is personal. I have not been in contact with you recently.

The reason for that is that my wife, Melinda, was diagnosed with Breast Cancer last October.  As a result, we made major changes in our lives. The biggest two involve what we eat and how we live.  Part of that resulted in me putting my practice expansion on hold for most of the last six months.

How we live is probably the key to the rest of this blog entry, so lets start with that.  I had just finished a coaching training program and was in the process of signing up clients who were looking, as I was looking, at second half of life ventures that would fuel their needs well into their eighties. The thinking was that if you are doing the right thing, you can do it for a lot longer than just sixty-five.  With the prospect of life to one hundred this made perfect sense.

And then my wife, someone who was in “perfect health” was given news that caused us to question whether there would be a second half of life.  So we started to live in the moment.  Our moments.  Not our children’s moments, or our referral network’s moments, or our community’s moments but ours.  We watched and did things that made us laugh.  Melinda changed positions at work, we recommitted ourselves to exercise and we started a joint daily gratitude practice.

From a nutritional perspective, we started eating only whole foods. Organic if possible. We thought we were following Michael Pollan’s recommendation of “eating food, mostly plants and not a lot” before, but now we have become zealots.  I enrolled in a second coaching training program, this one from IIN – the Institute of Integrative Nutrition – so I could fully understand the effects of diet and lifestyle on how we look and feel.

I am sharing this with you now, because as a result of these actions, Melinda and I have changed the focus of our jointly held business – onCOREventures. While I still work with executives and professionals who want to design a life into their eighties or longer that is onCORE with who they are, I am now helping them be much more focused on their lives to make sure they are healthy so that they can enjoy their venture for as long as they want.  With obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer affecting more and more people as they enter the second half of life, this is the “ante” for the game in what I have often called Life 3.0.  As they say in games of chance you have to pay to play.

Recently, I received my accreditation as a professional coach from the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and now that I am substantially through the nutrition components of the IIN coursework, I have been certified to see clients in the health and wellness space as a health coach from IIN.  I was already qualified as a coach, but now have more tools with which to assist my clients.

So, in addition to workings with clients looking ultimately at their Life 3.0 ventures and adventures, I work with people in an awesome, six-month program to bring more energy, fewer cravings and a reduction in their waistline to their lives in a fun and sustainable way. We like to refer to this approach as post modern nutrition – we help clients ease great tasting, new food into their lives in order to crowd out old, junky food that was causing poor health.

I say we, because after a successful combination of radical homemaking and great allopathic care, Melinda is cancer free and she just completely finished IIN and is accredited by the AADP – American Association of Drugless Practitioners. While she is still working in a great career as a Business Analyst, Melinda is seeing a select client base to help them become healthy and balance the needs of career and family. We believe that someone walking the talk is a good fit for many people that have to juggle multiple priorities in life – and frankly – who doesn’t?

Well in Golf, the turn comes after the first nine holes.  Yesterday I completed the first half of the IIN program – and it is also the completion of the turning on the pivot point that I discussed in my entry six months ago and the beginning of our new integrated direction.

Wheat Belly

Several months ago, I read an article, on my iPAD, from Spirituality and Health talking about the findings from a book called “Wheat Belly.”  I was completely dumbfounded to learn that whole grain wheat, something millions of Americans believe to be a healthy food, is as bad for most people as the Wonder Bread of my youth that “helps build bodies 12 ways…”

It turns out that back in the grand experimental days of the fifties; fertilizers were introduced to wheat production in order to increase crop yields. This effectively changed the growth characteristics of the wheat plant, making it grow faster and taller, which in turn, made harvesting problematic. In order to keep the benefits but eliminate the production issues, cross breading was employed to make the wheat grew shorter and allow for easy harvesting of a larger crop. Voila! Wonder Wheat was born!

Unfortunately this miracle process also altered the glycemic index of the wheat to look a lot like refined sugar.  In other words, wheat now leads to intense cravings just like sugar.  Consumption of modern wheat products creates cravings in the body for …you guessed it…more wheat products. Along with a smattering of sugar injected during processing, this creates a vicious cycle that is a food producers dream…and a health advocates nightmare.

The author, Dr. William Davis, suggests eliminating wheat for a full month in order to see the effects it is having on your body. Coincidentally, a year earlier Wayne Dwyer convinced me to restrict my sugar content (not high fructose corn syrup sugar which I refuse to purchase – real sugar) to 15 grams a day. Over the past year, I have been working at this, in large part by substituting bread as a snack of choice. This made sense, I reasoned, because most “whole grains” bread has very little “SUGAR”. Unbeknownst to me, the very wheat in my bread was little different than sugar to my unsuspecting body.

Since my belly had not noticeably decreased in the last year of severely restricting sugar, I figured I would give the “no wheat” idea a go. This “eating thing” is a process, after all. Within three weeks all cravings for any food were GONE.  Not diminished – GONE.  Historically, I have typically had all the will power of a twenty one year old male in a bar with $100 in my pocket to burn.  Now my cravings for any food were GONE!  I was able to eat a meal and not be hungry for five hours.  In the past it would have been more like thirty minutes post-meal that I would be ready to eat again.

There were other changes too.  My joint pain – gone. My sinus congestion – gone. My sleep difficultly – gone. My Wheat Belly – well, that’s going (it is a process), but it’s clearly diminished.  I suspect because of my increased energy level that my Vitamin D deficiency is also improved. The way that modern wheat is digested causes inflammation of the digestive system, which may block the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

Understanding all of this new knowledge, presented a few “Issues.”  I was eating so much wheat in the first place in an attempt to be healthy and socially responsible. My diet was mostly vegetarian, and I had completely eliminated land based animals from my diet, was using seitan as a substitute.  Seitan is wheat.  I was working out more, enjoying it less and not losing weight, especially on my belly.

So, since I am not a big legume fan, and wheat was out, I started eating meat occasionally. Because I am something of a food zealot, this meant consuming only grass fed, grass finished, and preferably local beef. Which, in turn, meant drawing on our home equity line of credit to afford, and frankly meat in general does not really taste that good to me anymore. Suffice to say, creating a diet without store bought wheat products has been a challenge.

It is possible to buy Ancient Wheat from sources in the US. Bluebird Farms and Einkorn are a few examples of retailers that sell ancient wheat products over the Internet and these products do not have the glycemic issue of modern whole grain wheat.  It is also possible to get gluten free products, however most of them are worse than wheat in terms of what our bodies do with it.  Following the Weston Price methodology, you can spend several days manipulating these toxic ingredients into edible, arguably nutritious food sources but this requires time and practice. The food preparation choices are rich, diverse, confusing, and all require cooking.

In short, there is no easy answer.  Michael Pollan purports the answer of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” With the revised interpretation of his quote “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” to include factory wheat, this sounds just about right.  This means, my answer has become “radical homemaking.” Fortunately for me, Whole Foods just opened a new store close to our home. Unfortunately Penn DOT is working on the road in front of the store.  If you are not from Pennsylvania, Penn DOT moves at a glacial pace in road construction projects. Now, I know that glaciers are moving faster because of global warming, so maybe Penn Dot will finish the road sooner than anticipated.

The real issue for me with radical homemaking is that because I have been “semi-retired” and my wife is working in a 24-7-365 Information Technology career, I am, necessarily, the radical homemaker. I am working to do this new “homemaking thing” while launching a small business at the same time.  Like everything else about living an OnCore healthy life – this too – is a process.

And my financial advisor cannot understand why I will not invest in Monsanto.  Maybe he will now.